The first steps to take when you notice your child is struggling to learn are prereferral, assessment, or diagnosis (see A Guide to Finding Local Resources When Your Child Struggles to Learn). Once the reason for your child’s learning problem has been identified, you’ll know more precisely what he needs in order to learn. Where do you look and how do you begin this search? This article will help guide you through the four steps to discovering local resources:

1. Summarizing your child’s needs

Whatever type of specialist you’re seeking for your child, you can turn to a variety of resources (people, organizations, and directories) for contact information. If you’re not sure what type of specialist your child needs, review Specialists in the Learning Disabilities Field. Ask your child’s teacher or IEP team what outside specialists they recommend to supplement the special services your child is getting in school.

Before you start calling people, make a list summarizing your child’s situation. This will help you describe your child’s needs in a succinct way. List these facts:

  • Child’s name
  • Age
  • Grade in school
  • Name and type of school (public or private)
  • Identification/diagnosis: For example, “He has an auditory processing disorder.”
  • Observations (yours or the teacher’s): For example, “My son can’t remember what he has heard after the teacher gives instructions.”
  • Type of specialist needed (e.g., tutor, advocate); be as specific as possible.

It may also be helpful to set up a resource notebook to organize all the information you will be gathering.

2. Contacting national sources for local referrals

Some national organizations have systems in place to help you search for state or local referrals. The referrals are free, but the professionals to whom you are referred usually charge for their services. Some services, however, are free or low-cost, indicated in the list below by an asterisk (*).

Check with these national organizations for:

Educational therapists and tutors

  • Association of Educational Therapists provides online referrals to educational therapists who tutor children with learning disabilities.
  • * Scottish Rite Clinics, Centers, and Programs for Childhood Language Disorders offer both assessment and tutoring services through 150 locations in the United States.
  • National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions can refer you to any local teaching hospitals that offer learning clinics.
  • * After-school programs can often refer you to local tutors.
  • State Department of Education – Special Education Department: Ask for a list of private agencies that offer tutoring services.
  • Wrightslaw Yellow Pages for Kids
  • Related article: Questions to Ask Tutors

Speech, language, and hearing therapists

Medical professionals

Ask your medical insurance company for a list of local providers covered by your policy. If you’re looking for a specialist,  find out if a referral from your child’s pediatrician is required for insurance purposes.

Legal assistance/advocates

  • Neighborhood Legal Services: Legal Services Corporation funds 179 low-cost legal aid programs in the United States.
  • Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution (CADRE) provides a national database of Special Education Dispute Resolution Professionals.
  • Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) is an independent, nonprofit organization founded to improve the quality and quantity of legal assistance to parents of children with disabilities.
  • Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) provides referrals to national, state, and local disability organizations and advocates and to a nationwide network of parent training and information centers and community parent resource centers.
  • Related article: Questions to Ask Attorneys or Advocates

Parent training

The following national resources may have information about parent-training programs in your area.

Additional resources

3. Researching your local options

When searching for local resources, consider all possible sources of information, including educators and parents in your community. Contact the special education director of your local school district, your child’s teachers, speech therapist, school counselor, and your after-school program director. Check with other parents who have children with LD and/or AD/HD. If you belong to a local chapter of a national organization such as CHADD, LDA or IDA, talk to your chapter leader and other members. Those people may refer you to others in the community, and your network will expand.

Print and online directories

Whether you’re searching through telephone books or online directories (,, etc.), the following categories will help you locate the specialists your child needs:

  • Educational consulting and services
  • Speech and language pathologists
  • Tutoring
  • Marriage, family and child counselors or marriage family therapists (counseling services)
  • County mental health services
  • Physicians and surgeons — behavioral, developmental pediatric Medicine
  • Physicians and surgeons — pediatrics (infants, children and adolescents)
  • Physicians and surgeons — Psychiatry-child
  • Psychologists
  • Social and human services for individuals and families (county health services)
  • Social workers (counseling services)

Online community as a source of information

Online parent bulletin boards often contain valuable ideas on where to find help for your child. Here are some message boards to try:

Expanding your horizons at lectures and workshops

Attending parent lectures, workshops, and conferences can expand your knowledge and introduce you to specialists in your community. Check with local organizations as well as local chapters of national organizations you belong to.

4. Contacting local resources

Before you contact a resource, write their name, address, and phone number at the top of one sheet of paper (and date it). It helps to draw or fold a vertical line down the middle of the paper. Then you can write your questions for the person on the left side of the vertical line and add notes on the right side. When you call an organization, be as concise as possible about what you need. This is where the summary sheet describing your child’s needs will help. Many nonprofit groups are under-staffed yet are trying to help as many parents as possible. They cannot spend much time, if any, on the phone. Here’s a possible script:

“Good morning. My name is Mary Jones. My son is 12 years old and has been assessed with a reading comprehension problem. He needs a tutor. Is this something you can help us with? If not, can you recommend someone else to contact?”

Moving forward with confidence

This type of research takes time and effort on your part. Remember that your resources are never set in stone; the resources your child needs will change as he grows and schoolwork becomes more complex, and as he faces new or different challenges. Navigating the LD journey is not an easy trip for anyone. But developing your research skills and learning to make local connections will allow both you and your child to move forward with confidence.

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